Many of the posts of this blog reference learning experiences that feature loose parts. I love the description of loose parts in Lisa Daly's wonderful resource, Loose Parts: Inspiring Play In Young Children:
"Loose parts are natural or synthetic found, bought, or upcycled materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change within their play. Alluring and captivating, they capture children's curiosity, give free reign to their imagination, and motivate learning."
Almost any type of material can be a learning resource for children if given the freedom and time to experiment with it. Here is an example of this in action using pieces of plastic rain gutters found at the local hardware store, some drink dispensers and upcycled applesauce cups.
The containers were filled with colored water using liquid water colors and set on top of a picnic table for easy and independent access for the children.
The children not only enjoyed using the water on the gutters, but they were excited when they discovered taking some water from each dispenser in order to make new colors of water.
As this was a new material for our school, we placed the gutters in an initial arrangement that led itself to the water traveling across several pieces at various heights using a natural rock wall and some tires and small tree stumps (loose parts that have been in our play space for some time).
The children were eager to pour the water into the gutters and watch it travel. They did not always start at the beginning of the sequence. A few found a favorite spot and poured cup after cup in the same place. A few always went to the "beginning".
As it was used, it was moved causing the water to stop traveling all the way to the end. A problem was discovered and the children set to work to solve the problem. They began to experiment with moving the gutters, lifting them, rearranging them, connecting them and testing their new arrangements.
This engineering process continued as initial attempts were less than successful and there were many ideas from the group. Each believed that they had the solution. This was a wonderful opportunity for conflict resolution as well as the children had to negotiate how to take turns trying their own ideas and arrangements. Sometimes when a child would leave a set up to gather more water, they would return to see a change had been made. It was a good time to get the children talking to each other about planning and testing.
On other days we added other elements such as a low step ladder. We wanted the children to feel that the options were endless-there was not a "right way" to arrange these loose parts.
Often careful observation of the properties and elements of the materials was needed. How can I connect two pieces? Why won't they stay together? What could I use to keep them together? What could I put under them for support?
The children talked to each other. "Wait, I know! Let's try this..." "Look what I did, come see this, its working!" "Its stuck. How can we get this unstuck?" They were listening to each other and helping each other solve problems.
We also made sure to move the parts around the outdoor play space to encourage them to use the materials in different combinations.
With just a few plastic rain gutters, some drink dispensers and colored water, these children participated in engineering, physics, designing, experimenting, problem solving, negotiating, collaboration, observation, testing and task persistence. Through this highly engaging and motivating PLAY children are developing these critical 21st century skills.
Please share with us the loose parts play that your children/students are exploring.